Growing up, being overweight or obese was never a problem. Parents with children heavier for their age would also be congratulated by their peers for “feeding their kids very well.” As a matter of fact, being overweight is still considered a blessing by many in my village and many other villages in the country.
You will hear comments like “Looks like you are doing well wherever you are,” “You are eating well,” etc. directed at people who are struggling with being overweight.
Having a potbelly easily lands you a chairman position in village committees. This is how we interpret or rather misinterpret what is a growing threat to human health in our times, the obesity and overweight problem.
This lack of awareness not only keeps us from seeing the threats – mentally and physically that people suffering from obesity or overweight face, but has also blinded us from seeing a problem we should all be paying serious attention to.
The terms “overweight” and “obesity” refer to body weight that is greater than what is considered normal or healthy for a certain height. This condition could affect physical activity as well as overall health of the person.
According to a joint report by UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group, more than 3.4 million Kenyan adults are obese and 4.1 percent of children under five are overweight. According to the same report, a staggering 13 percent of adolescents are obese. As incorrect as it may sound, both obesity and hunger are as a result of poor nutrition and insufficient access to adequate food.
The Kenya National Demographic Health Survey (KDHS), 2014, found that more than 33 percent of Kenyan women were either obese or overweight with about 10percent falling within the obesity category.
About six percent of children under five years and five percent of men were also classified as obese. This is an increase of more than eight percent in total of obesity or overweight cases in the country from the prevalence found in the 2008-09 KDHS report. According to subsequent independent studies, the trend points towards an even faster increase in the rates of obesity in the country.
The effects of obesity on the health of people living with the condition goes beyond interference with their physical activity.
According to the World Health Organisation, obesity is a risk factor to other health issues. This includes heart problems, hypertension, immobility and even disability in later stages and at least 13 forms of cancer.
Up to date, there is no clear commitment and plan by the government to address the problem. The Ministry of Health’s strategic plan mentions promotion of healthy diets to reduce reliance on high fat, high sugar foods.
There is, however, very little to show. Food promotion and advertisement continue to be run and controlled by profit-oriented corporations focused on sales for their products (usually high fat, sugar and salt processed foods). Most of these advertisements target children and adolescents.
It is easy to think of obesity and weight management as an issue of personal choice, discipline and “eating just enough” but this is not always the case.
Emmanuel Atamba, Route to Food ambassador.